After a harrowing 16+ hour flight, we were told that we could remain in the Marhaba Lounge of the Dubai Airport for our 7 hour layover only if we had onward connections to Tehran. We informed them that we did not have that connection, in fact maybe never, but the nice ladies decided that our Premier Mastercard status was enough to be permitted to stay. We finally reached Negombo, Sri Lanka on June 23rd 2010.
Sri Lanka is a tear-shaped island located southeast of India with a population of 20 million people, five million ownerless dogs, 70% of this population being Buddhist (the people not the dogs), but in Negombo, 90% are Christian. Buddhism is 2561 years old but is slightly younger, 2361 years old in the country of Sri Lanka.
Negombo was a good place to get over jet lag being that we were literally on the other side of the world, 12:00 noon here is about 11:30 at night in Los Angeles. The “highlights” that we checked out when not asleep included the fort, fish market, and the Agurukaranulla Temple, the main Buddist Temple in Negombo. The actual town was describd by our friends MT and Rene who had been here in 1979 as a “plush tourist resort catering to middle-aged Europeans”. However, 30 years of Civil war and corresponding neglect have left Negombo in a state of needed repair.
The highlight of Negombo was definitely the locals hospitality and kindness. One example is the story of a tuk-tuk driver who asked us in passing if we wanted to tour someplace. After we declined and talked for a while, he realized that we had never eaten hoppers. He insisted at no charge that he drive us to his home where he would make us fresh hoppers. Jude and Kamala were so kind to invite us into their home, sharing their language, photos, and of course hoppers (basically a crepe).
We lodged at the Ocean View Hotel (no ocean view) and were welcomed by the wide smile of the owner, Mark Thamel who inherited this business from his father. The location is good and we were able to sample very tastey local food here. Our room had A/C, and cable TV, reasonable for about $25US per night.
En route to Kandy we saw elephants from the bus and we stopped for a break where we saw fruitbats.
After checking into the Sharon Inn with descent views of the lake area we walked into town where we witnessed the celebration of Poya, that included a full street show of costumed dancers, clothed elephants, a whole street party that was returning the relic back to its original location.
Kandy Returning the Relic Parade
We also visited the Botanical Gardens where we saw a giant palm avenue, bowling ball sized coconuts, and other massive flora that included a huge fig tree where we met 14 students who were so friendly, an overriding theme in this country. Many local couples wre there holding hands but the policemen blew their whistles if any “indecent” behavior was a possibility.
A highlight of Kandy in our opinion – not even list in the Lonely Planet Guidebook – was the Sri Maha Bodhi Viharaya 88 foot statue perched atop a hill that overlooks the city, giving us excellents views, 850 feet above sea level. Of course we also saw the Temple of the Tooth, the location where Budda’s left incisor is supposedly resting but we were only able to see the tooth casing, lucky for us we were told by the locals.
And a couple of recommendations in Kandy:
1) The Queen Hotel has a good restaurant for local food and is very reasonably priced at under $5US for two people.
2) Gulf Tailors #1 on Castle Lane with Mr. Nazeerdeen “the expert for wedding suits” and in George’s case, the person who sewed two ripped shirts back into travel shape.
3) In the central market you can purchase cheap Banana Republic, Columbia and Polo attire original as they are all fabricated in Sri Lanka, some without tags as to avoid problems with the police. The vender atr One- Nine- Two fashions remembered Adele Barker, the author of “Not Quite Paradise” who lived in the Kandy area for a year working at the nearby university.
Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Dambulla, and Polonnaruwa
Next we traveled to the first capitol, Anaradhapura founded in 380 B.C. Our planned lakeside hotel, the “Boa Vista” was closed even though we paid 10% up front online. Only the cat came to the locked door and wouldn’t open up. We stayed instead at the friendly yet sparten Lakeview and took an excellent afternoon tour of the ruins with Muthalif in his tuk-tuk. He was informative and friendly. His email is [email protected] He is recommended and has a van as well. Again we came across tons of friendly students who were visiting the ruins from Batticoloa. Students like these are finally seeing their own country after many years of civil war. We also went to Sigiriya, a stunning rock fortress where you can climb to frescos and later a Lion’s Paws that protect the final ascent to the top with views of the surrounding area.
Also highly recommended is the Dambulla Temple, a cave with many ornate statues and paintings of Buddha inside. We also visited the temples of Polonnaruwa before heading northeast to what everyone has been calling the best each in all of Sri Lanka.
We arrived in Trincomalee, a beach town that had obviously faced the onslaught of civil war and still appears in disarray. We caught a local bus to Nilaveli one of two great beaches in the area according to Sri Lankans and the Lonely Planet. We arrived at night….More about this in our next post!
Sri Lankan Family Nilaveli